Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ E-Learning Session (Helene Fournier, Anne Marie Vaughan)

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jun 22, 2006

Helene Fournier - State of the Field Report
From the Canadian Council on Learning Conference, Fredericton, NB

See also the formal report:

To inform the CCL and develop a knowledge baseline in adult learning. Criteria used by the research team: data that was comprehensive, quality and practical.

Limitations: verification of references, websites not always possible, experts comments were not obtained early on, general search criteria, and identifying Canadian research was problematic - authors and institutions were not always identified as Canadian.

Methodology: generated list of keywords derived from work in the area (terms commonly used, tables of contents, etc), and used this to search databases.

Defining e-learning: no single definition of e-learning, but still a general idea that it encompasses ICT, web based, etc. Little attention is given to the theory of e-learning; the bulk of work is practice-based: what they did, etc. Search results pointed to a fragmented landscape with an inconsistent use of terms.

Commentary: Griff Richards: do we need a theory of e-learning? Did we have one of telephone education? TV education? The internet is a medium of communications, and we have enought theories of communications from which we can borrow. But these theories refer to media studies. But these studies are poorly designed, poorly reported. There is also Clark's notion that instructional design is more important than the medium. We should not lose sight of the message that we are trying to conver.

Griff (continued): four functional areas
- e-learning as an extension of military education
- e-learning as distance education
- e-learning as classroom education
- e-learning as informal education

History of the field: from the printing press to Robert Peary (?!) to the e-learning hype cycle.

Griff again: the downturn in corporate interest had little to do with the effectiveness of e-learning. And it continues to make progress where it makes sense to do so. And if it makes sense to use a telephone, why not do so? It's strong market presence will not be regained until a strong consumer and SME presence is gained.

Activities: there's a lot of activity taking place, a lot of overlap - it's not clear whether we are seeing a community of practice or a network. A lot of indicators of change: learner centred, active learning, teacher workload, assessment, more. Numerous quantifiable measures of change: access, social inclusion, and the list goes on. More: e-learning policies, policy agendas, growth and divergence (but there's still a gap between research and practice).

Harold Jarche: the overwhelming needs of Canadians are not addressed by formal training. Efforts should be focused on practical tools, a network of information, informal, self-directed.

Stephen Downes: will soon be easier for adults to manage learning, it will be part of work and life. Not so much courses as communities of practice. Small mobile learning resources. Colleges and Universities need to make it painless. "Copyright issues remain the molasses of the information highway."

Griff: e-learning will continue to grow because it makes sense, it is efficient, esp. where there is a difference in place and time, for both formal and formal. Not if, but how more traditional forces will try to control e-learning under the guise of quality control. The attempts to control it are the biggest indicator that it works.

Terry Anderson: report misses an emphasis on informal learning. It's true it doesn't cover social software, because there isn't a lot of research. Other indicators of change: ROI discussions. The lack of agreement on a research agenda is a cause for concern. There's no systematic attack on fundamental issues. There's a need to do international comparisons.

Anne Marie Vaughan

We are being blogged, I have never been blogged before.

How would I describe the state in Newfoundland and Labrador? Memorial: 40 years of history, 360 courses, 15,000 registrations. Distance enrollment is outpacing traditional learning. College of the North Atlantic, 200 courses, 7,000 registrations. CDSLI, 1700 registrations. Researchers, provincial white paper. Private sector: IDON East, Blue Drop. Unique areas: marine, health, history and creativity (marine: you have to have a combination of sea time and courses, the courses have been by distance - that's a wonderful example of providing access in their own communities).

When I looked at the report, what struck me is the definitional language of e-learning. We use so much terminology it is difficult to understand; the language we use is so different and we expect that people will understand it? I'm not sure how much creit we've done to the field.

Also, theory versus practice. The publications and presentations that are practice-based are of limited value? I find these to be of significant value. Do we need this theory? E-learning is just a methodology of doing what we already do. And the technology is changing so rapidly, what comes out in the published world is out of date. What we want are community research alliances.

Justification research: we have to move beyond saying e-learning is a credible way of learning. I can't believe how this is going to advance. My life is constantly in the mode of justifying, even with 40 years of history. Unless we move beyond the justification mode, I'm not sure where it can go.

E-bubble: this told a story for me. In 2000 when we saw the hype, that's the time when we had federal-provincial agreements, CANARIE, etc., providing growth and resources. The bubble meant much more than the dot com bust. There was a real bust. I worked with 8 firms in Newfoundland; we now have two. Something happened, I'm not sure what happened, but the government support is not as prominent today as it was then.

A gap in the report: a real sense for a feel of the private sector. The private sector has been organized into CELIA - 38 member companies. The ones that survives looked at growth outside the province, that made them far more sustainable. Two companies found missing: Elluminate Live, and Desire2Learn. So some Canadian companies are certainly doing well.

Isues and trends: what's happening in colleges? In Newfoundland, I know how prevalent the College of the North Atlantic is. Colleges have a real role to play, they are more flexible. We have emerging consortia, eg. Canadian Virtual University. We try to promote transfers from one institution to another. Also: Cooperative Learning Objective Exchange (CLOE).

The hardest thing when coming up with a 'state of the field' is that the structure in each university is different, and the structure changes. We are constantly in a state of change.

Then we have the whole issue of dual mode versus the virtual university. We have many universities in dual mode.

In e-learning, we have tended to focus on design rather than delivery.

Finally, there is a gender imbalance in who is doing research. What is the issue - are we the practitioners and not the researchers?

Our focus has been on course development. Have we really changed out approach? Faculty take class experiences and transfer it. But Zemsky-Massey report: e-learning becomes pervasive only when faculty changes its approach.

I don't want to lose the importance of delivery and service. We need to understand the adult learner; Banner (the student information system) really doesn't tell us much. The more well tell the story of who our learners are, we can counteract what is based on intuition and not fact.

In our institutions we don't move beyond the bum in the seat to supporting the lifelong learner. E-learning is only one aspect of this. We can't look at it in isolation; it needs to be coupled with prior learning experience, rethinking the 13 week semester. When we move beyond justification, we can look at how to change the institution to support it.

The question is, how do you really get a comprehensive state of the field when you have multiple definitions, structures, approaches. And where does e-learning fit with respect to the Canadian Council on Learning? Is it a theme, or a node in itself?

Q & A

The notion of the message being more impotant than the carrier: I asked some students, is it worth the extra money? Some said it was, and the logic was, a power issue. They had the same resources the professor did. And because they could take time to research something, they would go into the class knowing more that what the prof does. It completely changes the playing field. And when I look at online informal learning, I see, they're offering advice, practical advice, that they cannot get. And again, it's about power. So the question is, is it just the thing we used to do? Has this been developed and explored?

Response (Anne Marie): A comment I made is students rated themselves very highly in search abilities, but that was questioned by librarians. But what makes Memorial the point of reference of searching abilities. The library database is not good data. The response back is, we can't say, there isn't research taking place.

Comment: I take online course and I don't do research in the library (system) because it's too complicated.

Comment: Following up on Melissa's comment: I think perhaps we need a response that takes it out of the formal education sector. When we respond from the formal sector, we are still looking at teaching and not learning. And perhaps adult learners who might have an affinity for technology might have an interest in knowledge and sharing, not so much credits. Not teaching, but the informal use of learning for new knowledge.

And (same commentator continued) re: justification. The evidence shows that when you intervene in the learning process, success rates increase dramatically. So where technology plays a role is to enable intervention in the learning process. It's not a new phenomenon. I think Griff is right; when technology is questioned by traditional factors, we know we're making a significant difference.

Helene: and when you look at everything statistically, you miss the quality of the experience. You get frequencies, not quality of the exchange.

Comment: so what are we going to do to include the non-formal into the equation. One way is to look at user statistics in the social software field. That takes time and money.

Helene: and you need a framework to put it together.

Comment: paper on barriers. 59 percent of people are participating in informal learning. Do you really know who those users are who are using e-learning?

Helene: we know less about the people angaging ininformal.

Comment: so you only know about the 39 percent who are participating in formal learning. It's likely that e-learning will be a greater priority. And our knowledge is about different people.

Anne Marie: we asked in NF what people value about the university. People said, the resources of those institutions. We have funding and accountability. We will try to make the system seamless to the learner. One thing they were clear about is that they wanted more access, that they could not come to the institution. But we haven't had rapid gowth in programs, because we're constantly in that justification mode.

Comment: Is NF the most progressive province, do you think?

Anne Marie: I don't know. I want to say yes because I'm from there, but... I firmly believe that what I do is linked to economic development in the province. So I sit on numerous boards to get to air what is needed for social and economic growth.

Comment: research re: adults who wanted to access learning because they wanted a credential, but where the technology is a concern to them. Is that an issue for adult learners, as to whether they can manage the technology, or was it were they smart enough?

Helene: it starts with a need first of all, then whether they want to use technology, go the formal route, whatever. It's very individualized, people are coming from various places in their lives.

Comment (rephrase): might I lack persistence because I might be faced with technology issues, or would it be family issues? Or, how pervasive is the concern around technology.

Anne Marie: in formal system 90 percent of them have computers, there's the broadband project, a lot of people are saying "Why can't I get everything online from Memorial." They're asking for it. But they're people who are in the system. But when we work with fishers in the community, I suspect that a big issue will be comfort level. The challenge is, the only people we have is people within the system, not people trying to access the system. I think structure is the biggest barrier, eg., transfer.

Comment: e-learning - there's a huge group of learners with a serious issue with literacy. I wonder if any work is being done to address adult literacy issues through e-learning. I know the programs that are there are under-resourced. Also, issues of transportations, etc. Are you addressing adult learning in your province.

Anne Marie: addressed in white paper. Refer to John King.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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